She blushed for a moment and said, “There is no specific reason for these visits as you imagine. Unlike you and your family, ours have always been devout and religious and this practice of mine that commenced from my father’s days continue even after his death. Maybe you have some hidden wish to be fulfilled through my prayers.”
In her early thirties with a post graduate from Delhi school of economics, she worked as an Assistant professor in a college very near the beach at Triplicane. Her husband Ananth held a senior position in a reputed finance company. They lived happily in their posh apartment in St Mary’s road though they were not blessed with a child for more than seven years.
One evening as Ananth was leaving for office, he said, “Vimala, tomorrow evening you are to accompany me for a memorial lecture on the ‘Current Indian economy and the required reform priorities’ by a well-known CEO followed by cocktails and dinner at Hotel Three Trees. The invitees have been requested to attend with spouses. This is an important event I cannot afford to miss. Be ready by 4pm. I will come and pick you.”
When Vimala and Ananth entered the glittering and classy auditorium, it was almost full and the event was just about to begin. Just as they took their seats, someone started the usual welcome speech and thanked the main speaker for her gracious presence and introduced her as Ms. Amby Ranger, CEO of the India and South East region of a well-known worldwide American bank. After a brief profile of her education in Chicago and later her doctorate in Harvard and her significant professional achievements, he requested her to give her valuable thoughts on the burning topic of the day.
When the lady came to the rostrum amidst a warm ovation, Vimala noticed that the lady was in a formal blue coat and pants and a light blue shirt, with her hair let down unbundled and her face had a light make up along with maroon lipstick and mascara. She looked very attractive with her glistening pearl necklace in white around her neck. The lady confidently looked around at the audience showing recognition of some of the faces on the front row with a slight nod or smile and commenced her speech. Endowed with a voice that was clear, her diction flawless with a faint drawl of her Harvard days and with arguments persuasive, she kept the audience riveted to her speech. She concluded her speech in 45 minutes with a surprising quote from Thirukkural. After the long applause, there were a few questions from the audience that were fielded by her with aplomb and apt answers.
Vimala was seated at a distance from the dais and could get only a hazy picture of the speaker. It was only at the cocktails when the chief guest moved around among the audience with a half-filled glass in her hand, Vimala could get a glimpse her conversing animatedly with many important people crowding around her. Her warm hugs with some of the ladies, ready handshakes with many men and the hoo-hah that accompanied looked affected for Vimala.
As she deftly moved from them to others, Vimala felt she caught her eyes. After a few minutes with another crowd, she saw the lady making a dash towards her and exclaiming,” Hello, have we met before? There is something familiar in you. Are you working? Have you come with your hubby? Maybe I know him. Do introduce him to me,” she spoke with much enthusiasm.
“I am Vimala and teaching economics at Presidency college. My husband Ananth is working in a senior position in a well-known finance company,” she replied and hailed Ananth who was standing nearby. After shaking hands with Ananth, she laughed heartily and said, “You are a pretty lucky guy to have such a charming wife. I have taken a great liking for her We must get to know better. Maybe one of these days, we shall catch up,” and hurried away towards another group of people waiting eagerly nearby.
As they were returning home, Vimala asked Ananth, “What do you make of that Amby something?”
“Why, she is a very pleasant and vivacious lady, highly knowledgeable and taking the bank to great heights. Don’t you agree?” he replied.
“No, a very artificial and pretentious woman, I have developed an instant dislike for her. You are one of the hundreds to have attended the meeting. What is there with us to catch up and meet again? I think she must be nearing 60.” Vimala spewed her distaste. Ananth did not react but drove home silently.
During one of the subsequent temple visits, Vimala noticed a good-looking lady of about 55 standing by her side in the main sanctum and praying with eyes closed. She looked fetching in her blue silk sari with a large bindi on her forehead, sparkling diamond ear stud and a string of jasmine on the head over the neat bundle. She had a bowl with flowers, betel leaves, coconut and other things in her hand. As the priest came near them after the arthi with the plate carrying the burning camphor, the lady dropped a hundred rupee note. She gave the bowl in his hands and requested for an archanai(puja) in God’s name.
When Vimala turned to look at her as they were coming out of the sanctum, the lady gently smiled and asked, “Aren’t you Vimala teaching economics in a college?”
Vimala blinked at the somewhat familiar figure unable to place her, when that lady exclaimed, “My god, you have forgotten me so soon. We met only the other day at the function in Three trees hotel.”
‘I am so sorry. You were so different there. I never expected you in a temple in our traditional sari with bindi, flowers on the head and a bowl in hand. But your name there was also outlandish. Pray, do not take me amiss,” she said
“I understand your confusion. The setting there was so different. Call me Ambuja. When I was in Harvard, the classmates called me Amby and my boyfriend then and husband now was known as Ranger, shortened form for Rangarajan,” she laughed and continued, “I do not drink after I returned to India and took a degree in Vaishnavism but hold the glass without sipping on formal meetings. You must visit my house at Neelankarai. Have this card and ring me before you visit as I work both from Mumbai and Chennai.”
“It is awesome that with all this crowded official life, you took time to delve into Vaishnavism. How come you visit this temple each week all the way from Neelankarai? Any special attraction to the Presiding deity?” Vimala asked with a giggle.
“Good question. My maternal grandfather lived years back in the Car street and as a young girl used to visit the temple with my grandma. That could be one of the reasons I am drawn here besides the fact that I find great peace after I pray standing before the lord,” Ambuja said, reminiscing her younger days. I am to rush back. More to talk when we meet next time,” she replied as she hurried away.
When Vimala was standing wondering whether to visit lord Narasimha shrine, the priest who knew her well came out of the shrine asked,” Vimala, what are you thinking about?”
“Nothing mama, Good you came out. Do you know the lady who was standing by my side? She impressed me with her devoutness and interest in Vaishnavism despite holding a very top position earning huge salary,” asked Vimala
“I don’t know much about her but she seems to be sincere and well-to-do as she is very liberal,” he said.
That night when Vimala and her husband Ananth were watching the TV, she narrated about her meeting Ambuja at the temple and how she was impressed with her deportment, elegance and gentle way of her talking. I feel terribly bad at my initial dislike for her that was hasty and misplaced. I wish to cultivate her and learn about Vaishnavism.”
After some silence Vimala spoke again, “How faulty we are at judging people by mere looks. Appearance does not tell us the truth. A donkey with holy books tied around its neck is still a donkey. A learned and wise man in rags and squatting in dirt is still wise man. The external robes often mislead the true character of the person inside. The mere presence at the temple does not make one pious nor a dagger in hand a murderer. There is always more than what meets the eye.”